Wednesday, December 19, 2012
WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla School Board plans to hold a special meeting before Dec. 28 to decide what to do with any excess funds from a Walla Walla High School bond should the measure pass in February.
The board held a brief work session Tuesday to hear feedback from community members and leaders of the Wa-Hi bond committee on the matter of potential excess funds.
Craig Sievertsen and Shannon Bergevin, co-chairs of the bond committee, were at the work session and expressed concerns about the potential for board members to use any excess funds rather than return them to taxpayers or pay down debt.
Sievertsen said the matter continues to come up in the public, with many people saying the board’s previous decision to use excess funds from the Edison Elementary bond for other projects as costing them yes votes on the Wa-Hi initiative.
Sievertsen said the board has an opportunity to make it a nonissue. While he personally sees the value of reinvesting dollars into the district, he said the committee simply doesn’t have enough time before the election to make a case for the benefits of using any excess money.
Bergevin spoke about a similar experience with the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce. Bergevin said the chamber’s board had voted to stay neutral on the Wa-Hi bond because of the uncertainty about excess funds.
Bergevin, who serves on the board, was not present for the vote and did not participate.
The bond language allows the district to use any excess funds for other projects. In this case, it appears any excess funds could go to making improvements at Lincoln High School.
Board members heard that the issue of the excess funds has the potential to cost them a victory Feb. 12, when voters will decide on the overhaul of the high school, which would cost $48 million in local funds with an expected $21.6 million state match.
Board member Cindy Meyer expressed she would be in favor of committing the funds to paying down the debt if it would help the project gain support. But board member Max Carrera said he was firmly against that, calling it a smart business move to allow flexibility with any excess funds. Carrera voted for using $1.6 million left over from the Edison Elementary construction for other district needs in 2010. He defended that decision during Tuesday’s work session, and said he would vote that way again if given the chance.
“I fully support how I voted to spend the excess funds, would vote again to spend the excess funds, and I’ll stand by that until I die,” he said. “I am not and will not support changing the language of the bond.”
The public will have another chance to comment on the matter before a board decision is made, once the meeting is set in the next few days.